One of the reasons I love Christianity is for its rich anthropological vision. Being a Christian allows us to take the humanity and the personhood of individuals with a seriousness and beauty that few, if any, worldview can. Our fellow humans can never be viewed as merely means to an end, but must always be understood as ends in and of themselves.
This has a powerful affect when thinking through a variety of ethical topics. For instance, I’ve written previously how sexual fantasy is a grossly dehumanizing practice. It strips away the person, in order to take pleasure in only the body, creating division between two things that are ultimately united; destroying the one, and preying upon the other.
Recently, I was reminded of yet another area where thinking through how our actions towards others can reveal our deeper views of their humanity, albeit in an area that I was not expecting. Listening. The Christian Scriptures are rich with admonitions for one to listen well and speak carefully. As is always the case, what the Scriptures command are good and are for good, and despite the many overt interpersonal benefits that good listening can bring, there is a deeper good laced within it that shows a deep respect for the person who is speaking.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the anti-type of this kind of humanity honoring listening. He stated:
There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, and inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.1
Good listening honors the humanity of the individual who is speaking. It honors their existence as an image bearer of the living God. It declares that the person is not merely an avenue for one’s own self-expression. Good listening actively resists the fleshly desires for self-glorification and treats the humanity of the speaker with the same, or, an even higher regard than for oneself. Indeed, patient, attentive, slow to respond and quick to dig deeper listening can be a daily practice of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 98